Sea Wall, Old Vic, London, SE1

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Sea Wall was written by Simon Stephens specifically for Andrew Scott. He first performed it ten years ago at the Bush theatre in Hammersmith. Since that time, both of them have become regarded as leaders in their sphere. Simon Stephens was already very well regarded, being involved with young writers at The Royal Court, but his hugely successful adaptation of “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time” has taken his career to a new level. Andrew Scott has been involved in the big hit TV series, Sherlock, where he plays Moriarty, and his stage performance of Hamlet was one of last years stand out performances. https://reviewdonkey.wordpress.com/?s=hamlet

This particular play has developed something of a cult following, it has been performed in the UK and Ireland and there is filmed version of it available online. I have to say that it is a truly remarkable piece, beautifully written. It plays to all of Andrew Scott’s  considerable strengths. He interacts directly with the audience, his naturalistic style of acting fits perfectly with the writing and one cannot help but be moved by his telling of the story. It was surely imagined for performance in a much smaller space than the Old Vic but Andrew Scott has even this larger audience in the palm of his hand.

The piece is short, only half an hour long, and the tightwad in me, initially felt a little short changed that The Old Vic is charging pretty nearly full price for a thirty minute one man show with no set. However, with perspective, Sea Wall is a very high quality, dense piece and I’m not sure that Andrew Scott, or the audience for that matter, could have kept up that level of intensity for any longer.

This show really enhances the reputations of both the actor and the writer. From Andrew Scott we really do get a masterclass in captivating an audience. He managed to make a thousand seat auditorium feel like a private conversation. I think that after he has finished the run here, there is life in the show yet and, I suspect that it is likely to be performed at other venues in the future. If not, I believe that you can watch the show on film at  http://www.seawallandrewscott.com/ I haven’t watched it yet, but if it is half as good as it is live then you are in for a treat!

Fanny and Alexander, The Old Vic, London SE1

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Fanny and Alexander is a play to luxuriate in. Sit back, relax – and let three and a half hours of rich storyline, beautifully performed, draw you away into another world. Don’t feel guilty about it, for – as the moral of this tale has it – it is good for the soul to give in to pure pleasure occasionally.
The acting in this show is a wonder to behold, it is full of larger than life characters, but there is never a hint of pantomime or showboating. The play (and the audience too, on the day I attended) is crammed with the best actors that London has to offer. Penelope Wilton is amazing as the matriarch with a past, holding the family together. Jonathan Slinger is excellent as a slightly sleazy but unapologetic sybarite. Kevin Doyle brings out the best (and worst) in the ascetic bishop. Michael Pennington is fabulous as Isaac, the puppet master bringing the action together, seemingly from the periphery, but not as detached as he appears. Guillermo Bedward played Alexander in the show I watched and he was very good, both funny and serious.
Much of this play is set around various dinner tables, often accompanied by a list of the food on the menu. Fanny and Alexander itself is a feast of all the best that London theatre has to offer. You will be transported, indulged and you can wallow in an evening of rich extravagant entertainment. The set is simple but clear, I really liked the austerity of the room in the second act. The choreography is clever, just organising the many scene changes with such a large cast must have taken careful organising. It was a pleasure to watch great theatre unfold before your very eyes. I loved this show and the time flew, it was one of the most rewarding afternoons that I have ever wasted!

Girl from the North Country, Old Vic Theatre, London

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Girl from the North Country contains three or four intertwining stories. These are slight, almost sketches really, but are beautifully told so that we care about the people we see on stage. It contains about twenty songs from Dylan’s back catalogue. These are used, in  an abstract way, to accentuate the drama rather than to move the narrative forward. It would be misleading to call this a musical, it is more a play with musical accompaniment.

The prose and the songs complement each other very well. Given the quality of the cast, the strength of the acting is no surprise. The singing, orchestration and choreography are the revelation. There are some amazing voices in the ensemble. Shirley Henderson and Jack Shalloo, in particular, shock when they sing, but every song is delivered well. The impact of a downtrodden, beaten character suddenly opening their vocal cords is not to be underestimated. Even the songs that I already knew, appeared to be given new life in the context of the play.

The reception of the audience was good, it is not too often that the whole audience stands at the end. I enjoyed this show, Conor McPherson and Bob Dylan are a combination that go together very well.

"Art", The Old Vic, London 2016/7

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I saw Art in 1996 when it first played the West End. Back then I loved it and gave it 5 stars. It is still a really good show, discussing interesting themes; aging, friendship and art. It has dated a little bit, some of the references are old fashioned, a couple of the arguments are a less convincing now, society is less in awe of money than it was then. Having said that, most of the lines are still funny and none of the questions it raises have been resolved.
This production is (if I remember correctly) almost identical to the one from the 1990s and might have benefited from a couple of small tweaks. The acting is good, Paul Ritter as Marc was wonderfully aggressive and argumentative, I was less convinced of Rufus Sewell’s love of his painting and Tim Key played it for laughs and was genuinely funny.
Overall, I enjoyed this production and will happily go to see it again in another 20 years!